So its the new year, and a couple of people maybe thinking its time to take the entrepreneurial plunge. Time to break free from that ‘9-5’ in that mid-sized practice and go out on your own. Thats great, but, before you take that leap from employee to employer, there are a number of things you’ll need to consider.

Here’s an adaptation from an article I read on arch20, that offers 5 key points you need to get right when setting up your very own architectural practice. Take a look.


1. BUILDING AN IDENTITY FOR YOUR PRACTICE

In business, as I’ve come to learn over the years, branding is very important. It helps define who you are and why you matter within your chosen industry. It also aids in giving your practice a face or brand identity, which could be influenced by your style of work and the perception you want potential clients to have of your practice. As such, it’s paramount that your practice begins with this degree of clarity and you are able to both  visually define your business and also state what goals you seek to achieve in both the short and long terms. Goals for your architecture practice might relate to size, revenue, project specialties, etc. It is important to begin with 3-5 goals for your business. They may include:

  • The size of the practice
  • Your role in the practice. Do you want to focus on design work or managing the business or (to an extent) both?
  • The type of projects/clients you wish to work with
  • How long you want to remain in practice. Do you want to build a firm that will provide you with an income for next 20 years?

2. BUDGETING, MARKETING AND DEVELOPMENT

Businesses in startup phase require differing amounts of money depending on the kind of business being set up. For an architecture practice, the amount of money required is directly proportional to the available resources and the type of practice you’re starting. To this end, it is essential you draw up a preliminary budget that takes into account some of the following:

  • Getting a bank loan vs using your own cash reserves.
  • Equipment/Location- keeping it to a bare minimum.
  • Marketing- Word of mouth to family, friends, acquaintances etc. Setting up a social media page.
  • Buying website to publish and keep track of work.
  • Budgeting to pay employees and other required ancillaries (e.g. photographer, draftsmen etc)

3. SETTING UP A WORKSPACE

This is always a major hump to get over when starting any business. Setting up a workspace (and most especially a workspace for creative people) can be an expensive and daunting task, but, with proper planning and research, it could be a lot easier.

If you`re a bootstrapping architect just starting out, working from home may not be such a bad idea. There are numerous advantages such as personal space, no commute to work, lower expenditure etc. However, if the home is not an all-the-way convenient option, you can always combine working from home with hiring a co-working space/meeting space in the city to see the clients, or go full time in a co-working space which seem to be gaining traction in a city like Lagos.

Whatever the case, it is essential you base your choice of considerations such as :

  • Budget
  • Location
  • Size of firm
  • Basic equipment for practice including desktops, stationary, furniture, resource library, etc.
  • Style of space that speaks to and reflects the personality of your business (remember brand?).

4. WORKFLOW MANAGEMENT

Managing workflow is one of the key components of any good business. Completion of projects on time puts out a good word about the practice in the market.  As the principal architect, you’ll need to be able to assess the duration of each job, be aware of what stage they’re at, and ‘who’ is working on ‘what’. These are extremely crucial, and thankfully, you have various software to help with managing projects and workflow.

Here’s a checklist you need to mark while assessing the quality of your office:

  • Time Tracking for all the impending projects before taking on new ones.
  • Project Management.
  • Creating Minutes of the Meetings, Invoices, and Final Reports.
  • Collaborating with bigger firms.


5. PUBLISH YOUR WORK, GAIN EXPOSURE

As a new practice, you’ll want to get your name out amongst the design community, and one of the best ways to do this is by getting your work published in journals or on blogs (like yours truly) or participating in design competitions. To aid in achieving effective publishing and exposure, here some things you should do:

  • Good architectural photography that matches the theme of your practice.
  • Concise write-ups explaining design principles and spaces.
  • Maintaining and upgrading a website with new work, thoughts, design ideologies, the status of work etc on a regular (and consistent) basis.
  • Conducting lectures and workshops.

In summary, setting up your own architectural practice is much easier said than done, so while these pointers offer some degree of guidance, there’s alot more to it in terms of time, money, attention and passion. However, if done right, it could be one of the most rewarding steps you could take in your career.

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